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Ascendancy

I first came across Ascendancy way back in 1995 when I was asked to review it. I was running a 386 processor based machine in those days which compared to my current machine was very slow. However Ascendancy ran pretty well even though the recommended specification was a 486. The following review is an updated version of the one I did back in 1995.

Do you want to rule the universe? Colonise lots of star systems? Meet friendly aliens? And kill them? Well now's your chance. Ascendancy is a game of interstellar action, diplomacy, strategy and conquest. The format of the game is simple - you take the part of one of the 21 races in the universe and build a space going fleet and then explore the galaxy. A nice simple game - just like chess is simple.

At the start of the game you chose your race and then define the galaxy by selecting the number of stars, races and general atmosphere. The star density ranges from very dense, that is lots and lots of stars to not very many stars. The total number of races on the other hand is limited to between 3 and 7. You get to pick your race, the others are selected at random. The Atmosphere refers to how aggressive the races are in general. Selecting a hostile atmosphere will mean that the races tend to shoot first and then try diplomacy. A peaceful atmosphere will result in much more negotiation. However, some races will always be aggressive or peaceful regardless of the general atmosphere.

The game itself is played on a series of screens. The main ones being the Galactic Display, the System Display and the Planetary Display. As its name suggests the Galactic Display gives an overview of the known galaxy. All the stars are shown and you can overlay various bits of information, such as the known star lanes, locations of ships, known species and so on. The Galactic Display can be rotated and zoomed so as to allow the best possible view. It is also possible to display overviews of your planets, ships and research as well as data on the other known races.

The Planetary Display shows a single planet along with any structures which have been or are being built. In order for your race to prosper and grow it must produce three key resources: research, industry and property. You decide what structures to build and when so as to maximise these key resources. You can also build orbiting structures such as shipyards, ships and defences. Again you decide what and when to build. The structures that you can build are determined by the research that you have done. To start with you are limited to basic structures but as the game progresses so you can start to build better ones. Eventually you can build your first ship and then you can explore the galaxy.

The System Display shows the current star system, including the planets, star lanes and ships. About the only things you can do on this screen is move from planet to planet to star lane. Oh, and fight battles with other ships.

The Research display should also be mentioned. It is, as far as I know, unique in that it shows the connections between the various research areas in a graphical format. You can rotate the display and see how each area connects with all the others. I would love to see something similar in other games like this.

As you progress through the galaxy you build colonies on other planets which will grow and prosper and build more ships. Thus in time you will fill the galaxy. Well, not necessarily - there are at least 2 other races doing the same thing. Eventually you meet them and can choose to negotiate or fight.

The basic game play of Ascendancy is very simple, build something and wait and see what happens. But, like chess, it is the total of all the moves that makes the game. Thus choosing to build a research facility instead of a factory can make a big difference to the final result. This, I found made the game addictive. Just what would happen if I attacked this ship? Should I build a big ship or a little ship? Should I colonise this planet or that one?

The graphics on the various displays are quite good. The Galactic Display makes good use of symbols to show a lot of information which the other displays have nice pictures. Thus, for example, when you build a factory a picture of a factory is displayed in the appropriate place. This makes it easy to see at a glance what has been built on each planet or installed on a ship. When you talk to other races or look at the information you have on them you get a nice graphic of the speces in question. The planetary display show the various planets in a reasonably realistic way so that you can make a good guess as to how well each will support life, simply by looking at it.

The sound is, well, OK. This is not the sort of game which requires a lot of noises. The ships make a woshing sound when they start moving and that's about it. There is a music score, but as usual I turned this off fairly quick. Not because it was bad but because I find all music scores boring after a while. More sound might have been nice but in all honesty I did not miss it. This is not a game that requires photo realistic graphics and high quality stereo sound and what was supplied was good enough for me.

There were, however a couple of problems when I first played. The first and most worrying was the failure of Ascendancy to even start. When starting up I received the message "Not enough Extended Memory". This was surprising since I had over 7 Mb of Extended memory free. Eventually I realised that the problem was insufficient Expanded memory. I loaded Emm386 and all was OK. The trouble was that there was nothing in the manual to explain the error message or how to fix the problem. It should be noted that this problem only occurred on my original 386 machine, on a more modern machine running Windows 98 or later this problem should not occur.

The second problem was the mouse pointer display. As you moved the mouse the display behind it became corrupted. This I tracked down to the vesa driver supplied. I replaced it with my own and all was OK. Again this should not be a problem on a modern machine.

The third problem was the tutorial. The manual says ".You Don't Have to Read This Manual. We strongly recommend that new gamers simply click on 'Tutorial' from the opening screen in order to.....". Wonderful I thought an on-line tutorial. I can see how it all works. Wrong. The tutorial is divided into a number of sections. The first three were fine. However the fourth and fifth were totally weird. The screen display bore no relationship to the tutorial text at all. After much head scratching and not a few rude words, I decided the problem was I running on a 386 and not a 486. So I moved the CD and the sound card onto the 486 and tried again. The trouble was it made no difference.

In summary Ascendancy is good simulation. It is easy to play and has a lot of variety. It can be played and enjoyed both by people new to simulations and those more experienced. It makes a very good introduction into this type of game. Recommended.